Company drivers: Speed limiters do not improve highway safety

| 11/26/2007

Improving highway safety is the cornerstone argument used by groups pushing the mandatory use of speed limiters on heavy trucks in the U.S. and Canada.

The reality of life on the road in a truck with a speed limiter is anything but safer according to a survey of employee or hired drivers – commonly referred to as company drivers – conducted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s Foundation.

The Foundation sent surveys to more than 15,300 OOIDA members who identified themselves as employee or hired drivers. More than 22 percent of the surveys were returned completed, and the results weren’t surprising.

The survey included information about more than 2,000 different companies that hire drivers. Of those companies, 60 percent of the drivers who responded drive for a company with speed limiters on their trucks – with more than 90 percent of those company trucks set at speeds of 68 mph and slower.

The company drivers were asked to rank their concerns about the use of speed limiters. The No. 1 concern among the respondents was a lack of passing speed. That was followed by increased congestion and a fear of being rear-ended rounding out the top three concerns.

Truckers who responded to the survey ranked the need to drive longer to get miles as the fourth greatest concern that speed limiters creates. The fifth top concern was the more frequent passing by automobiles.

The Foundation notes that the lack of passing speed and increased congestion echo the results of a study done by Steven L. Johnson, Ph.D., at the Mack-Blackwell Transportation Center at the University of Arkansas.

The impact of lack of passing speed and congestion would result in what Johnson called “cluster congestion” in his study. He points out that if a truck with a 65 mph limit passes a truck with a 62 mph limit, in a 75 mph speed zone, traffic tends to experience cluster congestion.

The concern of being rear-ended is backed up by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 2005 Traffic Safety Facts released by NHTSA concluded in fatal crashes the truck is struck in the rear 2.6 times more often than the other vehicle. Rear-ends, where the passenger vehicle strikes the truck in the rear, account for nearly 12 percent of passenger vehicle fatalities, more than five times as many as those where the truck strikes the passenger vehicle.

Another of the top concerns, that speed limiters cause more frequent passing, isn’t a figment of the truckers’ imagination. Johnson’s study concluded that this is a very real problem.

He noted in the study that when a vehicle travels at a slower pace than the rest of the traffic the number of “interactions” between vehicles increases and that means the potential for being involved in a two-vehicle collision also increases.

Speed limiters can reduce a trucker’s income because most company drivers are paid either by the mile or by the trip. The speed limiters can keep truckers from driving the speed limit, thereby reducing the number of miles covered. The survey asked the drivers if they exceed the speed limit on roads or in areas where the speed limit is less than the speed limiter setting to “make up” for lost time.

Nearly 74 percent of the company drivers who answered the question admitted to exceeding the speed limit at least sometimes – with 51.8 percent speeding sometimes, 16.7 percent usually speeding and 5.3 percent responding that they speed all the time.

The truckers aren’t fans of speeding, though. The survey results showed that truckers were very concerned about speeding and that uniform speed limits and increased enforcement are their top two choices for controlling speed.

The participants in the survey are serious about their concerns, too. In fact, 60 percent of them said that their concerns about speed limiters are so great that they play a role in their consideration of working for a company.

And if all things are equal between a company that uses speed limiters and a company that does not, more than 80 percent of the drivers didn’t want to work for the company that uses speed limiters on its trucks.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor